The United Methodist Church is considering a new process for proposals given at General Conference for agenda items pertaining to the debate over the denomination's stance on homosexuality.
The Commission on General Conference, which plans the regular Church legislative gathering, proposed something called a "Group Discernment Process," according to Heath Hahn of the United Methodist News Service.
"Under the plan, the first stop of all sexuality-related petitions would not be legislative committees. Instead, all 864 delegates would review the petitions in small groups with no more than 15 members," reported Hahn.
"The groups would each have geographical, linguistic, ethnic, gender and age diversity, along with a mix of clergy and lay people … The commission asks each small group to make recommendations on the petition. Members will have the opportunity to review and sign the recommendations."
According to the Book of Discipline, which is an important governing document for the UMC, homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching."
The Discipline further defines marriage as between one man and one woman, bars clergy from performing same-sex weddings, and allows for homosexuals to be ordained provided they remain celibate.
Over the past several years, the UMC has debated whether or not to maintain these official positions, with some groups lobbying for those parts of the Discipline to be changed.
At the last General Conference, held in 2012, an amendment to the Discipline that would have replaced the "incompatible" language with an "agree to disagree" statement failed.
As the debate over the Discipline language continues, some have wondered aloud if the UMC will experience a schism over the theological differences.
As part of the Group Discernment Process model, Commission members hope that more moderate voices on the debate will get heard.
"One goal is to bring out the 'middle voices' — those who typically don't sign up for the legislative committees that deal with human sexuality and don't speak up once debate gets going," reported Hahn.
"Commission members, who themselves have varying theological views on homosexuality, don't have a particular outcome in mind for the process …"
John Lomperis, director of the United Methodist Action Program at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, told The Christian Post that he will have "a fuller opinion when the details of the plan are finalized and publicized."
"Genuine dialogue requires an interest from all sides in actually listening to the other. Our church has bent over backwards to listen to and accommodate a loud minority who dissent from biblical, historic, and official United Methodist teaching about marriage and sexual self-control," said Lomperis.
"But many activist liberal United Methodists have made it perfectly clear that they are simply not interested in hearing what the Bible, the church, or anyone else who disagrees with them has to say on such matters."
The top lawmaking body for the UMC, General Conference meets every four years. Its next meeting is scheduled for May 10-20, 2016 in Portland, Oregon.